Blog Pondering

Brats, However …

Sam (an American living in Cluj) wrote an excellent post about Romanian people. Sam is a city dweller while we live in the village – so sometimes I feel that his take on all things Romania is a bit tainted by his perspective. This time I think Sam nailed it:

There are a few tough old bastards living in this country but by and large this is a nation of spoiled brats, who were given the gift of living in one of the most beautiful and abundant countries on the planet and yet they never appreciate it. Foreigners come here and immediately love it. Romanians are inevitably shocked by it when I tell them and ask me why. Open your eyes, dumb ass! It’s obvious why.

But when the little princes and princesses get their country handed to them, when they get all that territory and all that democratic freedom as a gift, when they get free tuition and free health care, when they get their cities beautified by free money, when they get their roads built by others, when they get their trendy clothes made by others, when they dance to music made by others, when they sip on drinks made by others, when they consider going to McDonald’s a cool thing to do on a date, when entire forests are logged to be sold abroad but all the toothpicks in the store are made in China, you get a nation of spoiled little brats.

When we moved out the village I was under the impression that I was going to live amongst “tough old bastards” … and though there are a few, for the most part, it seems that I am surrounded by spoiled lazy people. It can be hard to miss in the village because by western standards a lot of the people here live poor-lives and work all day in the field, so it can be hard to think of them as spoiled. However there is always excellent fresh food (plenty of land and water) on the table and their houses are warm in winter (fire-wood is pretty abundant here and mostly harvested greedily, illegally and unsustainably).

People are content doing boring and unchallenging work (sitting in the field watching cows graze and grass grow) and suckling on the tit of yearly EU funds (we recently learned that growing tobacco is highly rewarded by the EU!). They show no signs of motivation to improve their lives – unless it is handed to them on a silver platter.  There is a lot of superficial behavior of keeping appearances and very little appreciation of the natural abundance  inherent in the setting of their lives (I learned that I am better off going to the market in my work-clothes – while most of the people, ahum, villagers dress up in their “nice” clothes). As the winter sets in and most of the intensive work (harvesting and preparation for winter) is done, there is much more free time – a void largely filled with dumb staring at a TV, drinking and ensuing drunkenness (more amongst men though women too).

We don’t have TV or cable at home but on the 1st day of the new year we were with our neighbors and they do have a TV and while we were there, there was a rerun of one of the celebration programs that was broadcast live during the night. It was setup as some kind of game show with two teams of celebrities (I am assuming they are celebrities since neither Andreea nor I have any idea who they are or who are Romanian celebrities at large these days) with other pop-stars coming and going. It was a pathetic display of a culture of idiots – butch men and their bitch women … a very very sad expression of popular Romanian culture. It is a mish-mash of the most superficial and destructive expressions of fashion the western world has to offer. Very sad.

HOWEVER I am happy to say that this is NOT a complete image of Romania. Like all things good, the good stuff is shy, doing its thing quietly and peacefully and mostly content being away from the spotlights of the superficial mainstream public eye. Unlike Sam I only know a handful of Romanians each of which are human gems. This took me by surprise – not because I knew about or had an opinion about Romania and Romanians but because of my past experiences in life. I didn’t come to Romania thinking it’s a great country – it isn’t – but I think that the very idea of a country sucks – so Romania just happens to be another sucky country (I paved my own road, I don’t have any medical insurance and my children will not go anywhere near formal education systems).

I came here thinking I could simply fade into the background and live my life in peace – which IS possible and one of the great things about Romania. But instead I kept meeting beautiful people. People who have often traveled and lived outside of Romania, people who have questioned the core values of life they inherited, people who are spiritually endowed, people who have grown to appreciate, love and protect the natural wonders of this country. Some of these people are actively involved (via a large national volunteer-based youth operation) in inspiring new young generations of passionate, hard-working, open-minded and open-hearted Romanians who are and will continue to slowly but surely change the face of this place. But you won’t see it on ProTV … and that’s a good thing 🙂

Blog Inspiration On The Way

Bhudeva Tour 2011

So we’ve planning for some time to summarize what we’ve done since we’ve moved out to the village 7 months ago so that we could share it all with friends and family – we’ve too busy working so we skimped on sharing. We kept putting it off till more stuff gets done but we’ve really slowed down and are proud to be doing less and resting more and these are the last hours of 2011 – so now seemed like a good time to do so. The list is really long and would probably tiresome for most people. Some of the things we’ve already written about extensively (to which we’ve added links in the text) and some we will write about in the coming weeks and months as we’ll spending much more times indoors. This post will be a visual tour of the house and around it so it will probably touch on most of the big things. A lot of the stuff will be revisited with more detail – so if there’s anything that interests you please do stick around 🙂

The images start yesterday morning when we awoke to the first real snow – the kind that stuck out an entire day and then some. The first thing we saw when we opened the door were of course (left to right) Indy, Loui and Harry excited to express their love and for breakfast:

Then, we looked up and a our winter-wonderland came into view.

And this is what it looked like outside

Half of the barn was converted into a residential palace for the poultry (ducks and chickens). The dogs are always passionate about helping with the flock because they are dying to get at their food (they love it even though they can’t digest it  … their poop is simply filled with yellow corn … which the flock take apart and eat … so in the end it doesn’t really matter).

The flock is kept indoors either because of weather (rain or fog … pour visibility gives hunters an advantage … and we’ve already lost a few chickens) or in this case because a new chicken has been introduced to the flock and we want her to get used to the place.

The other half of the barn is an improvised workshop.

In the barn attic we have wood stored for future projects. We decided to purchase a lot (6 cubic meters) so that it would season (dry) over time and be better suited for furniture use (yes, almost all of our existing furniture was built with green wood, we couldn’t get our hands on dry wood – this here in the Transylvania region of Romania knows for its abundant woods). Please excuse image quality – it’s pretty dark up there … and it was a hell of a job hauling all that wood up there (much easier to send back down).

The garage is still an ad-hoc storage space with everything from cardboard boxes, dried corn cobs (which we use for lighting the stoves), dog food, chicken feed, sacks of whole wheat (hung from the ceiling so the mice can’t get at them), one new barrel we managed to get our hands on for future rocket stoves, insulation materials and on and on.

We’ve summer kitchen (small one-room structure) into a winter pantry. We insulated the windows and placed in it a small radiator on the lowest setting to keep it from freezing. It’s got sacks of root vegetables (carrots, potatoes, parsley, celery, beetroot, onions, one last pumpkin) along with walnuts, white beans, a 120 liter plastic barrel with cabbages preserved in brine on top of which are a few pots (mice can’t climb the smooth metal surfaces) containing smoked meats.

Then there are the shelves containing … well loads of stuff … we made loads of preserved cooked vegetable-dishes (called Zakuska), pickles of various kinds … we’ll write about everything we made including recipes.

Then there is the freezer which contains lots of frozen vegetables, meat and backup bread (in case we are too lazy to bake any or don’t get to the village to buy some).

And finally a refrigerator lying on its side used as a mouse-proof storage box for everything that … well needs to be mouse-proofed (vegetables, dried fruits, cereals, wheat, corn-flour … and assorted things).

To complete the tour outside the house there is the humanure hacienda (which still isn’t dog-proofed) and the hay piles we are sinking because the dogs like to climb up and oversee their territories from up high.

The wood pile which includes scrap wood from demolition work, some uncut logs and some cut logs awaiting chopping.

Loui (the little puppy is growing and taking up a dominant position in the pack) popped into the frame as he heard something in the hill behind the house … he ran off and shortly after Indy and Harry joined him … they are odd bunch but they are definitely a pack … it’s sometimes amazing to see their instincts throw them into organized pack behavior.

We keep chopped wood in varying degrees of dryness stored in piles along the perimeter porch of the house.

Which concludes our outside tour and brings us to the house. You walk into a small hall (approximately 3×2 meters) which we’ve converted into a kitchen. In front of you is the door to our bathroom (used to be a pantry)

to the right our living room

and to the left our bedroom.

In our living room the large couch (left of the image) is a new one we built and Andreea temporarily furnished with a temporary mattress, some pillows and fabrics we purchased to make the final furnishings (we also got a sewing machine … so Andreea has her hands full on these winter days). The other “couch” is an old traditional Romanian bench again with Andreea’s superbly improvised furnishings. It too will be replaced by another home made couch. We still don’t have a table – so for now we have a tree stump.

We built two large shelves with large counter-tops to hold all of our books. The LCD screen is for the time being in the bedroom because we spend more time there (it’s very difficult = much work and much wood to heat both rooms … so during these cold days we spend most of our time in the bedroom!!) but it’s place is on the left-hand shelf unit … and it’s Christmas 🙂

Though the walls were painted fresh white, this room suffered from a very smoky stove … so the walls are … well an elegant smokey grayish color 🙂 This is culprit stove which Andreea sealed very well with heat-resistant silicon:

The bathroom is a very small space (1×2.5 meters) – we are very proud of the optimal use we’ve made of it. Front and center is a washing machine:

On the right is our hot-water boiler (wood-based with electric as backup) and our composting toilet.

And on the left is our shower stall – also home made with wood protected by yacht lacquer and a home-made drain built on a wood frame with a pond liner surface (much more on this project in a future post).

Our bed was one of the earlier woodworking projects as sleeping well (and healthy – on the floor there are humidity problems) was high on our list of our priorities. We want to add two dressers and a headboard – though that will wait to next spring.

The cabinet was a huge relief when it was finally completed (doors will be added eventually) since we finally had an accessible, orderly and safe place to store our things. Together with the living room shelves this is where almost all our (non-kitchen) stuff is stored. The stove (on the left) was our first experiment at rocket stoves and it has worked out great. It consumes much less wood (due to very efficient – high temperature burning) then regular stoves and because it is built from firebricks it has lots of thermal mass (unlike metal) – which means it acts as a battery and stores heat which is radiated into the room over an extended period of time. We’ve had subzero temperatures for many weeks and we light it twice a day for a few hours (it needs to be fed regularly) and we have a very warm room all day and all night long.

… and there is the LCD screen sitting on another traditional (and very elaborate) Romanian bench which will also be replaced in the future (it stinks of old and dying … and we are not so passionate about antiques – so it will probably not have a place in the house).

To put all of this in perspective it helps to revisit what all this looked like when we got to work in June – this is what the wall (behind the screen) looked like then:

I particularly like the views across the house – from the living room to the  bedroom

… and from the bedroom to the living room.

They give me a sense of wholeness that … feels good 🙂

Some other things you can’t see in the images:

  • We have running water … we started writing an ongoing series of posts about that process.
  • We use almost exclusively home-made ecological soaps (the rest are ecological, not yet home made).
  • We consume almost exclusively local produce … most from neighboring farmers (we don’t even visit the local market much) … even an excellent home made wine.
  • We’ve planned a beautiful hemp house that we couldn’t afford to build – but are now looking at an Earthship as a more feasible approach to construction for us. You can see what an Earthship construction process is like in this beautiful animation.
  • We’ve collected many seeds for our first food growing efforts in the coming spring – we are planning to try methods that are very different from local traditional practices. Everyone here has tilled the land and we haven’t … so we are pretty committed to our experimentation 🙂
  • We’ve arranged 200 meters of access road to our property with 40 cubic meters of stones.
  • We’ve collected huge piles of hay from a field and transported them home with a horse and carriage.
  • We’ve witnessed the slaughtering of pigs and have had to slaughter one of our chickens that showed signs of illness.
  • Andreea’s website Feminitate is nearing three years of online presence and will soon cross 1 million page views.
  • Andreea has attended and supported two home-births (both without a midwife present) … one of which I attended as a photographer.
  • Andreea has produced in collaboration with a close friend and fellow-doula a weekend Doula course which has been taught once in Cluj with excellent feedback … and a second (and maybe 3rd) course is booked in Bucharest this coming February with women in other cities taking an interest.
  • I can follow a conversation in Romanian but I don’t get enough practice to speak fluently … though I manage a bit here and there.

The last 6 months have been some of what of a race as something had to get done before winter set. We made it, with the grace of mother nature, in time. There is still endless work to do … but we can now find a pace that is pleasant and healthy. We have a home to live in and hopefully will have a much better home in a few years. We have grown stronger in mind, body, emotionally and spiritually.

In less then 3 hours this year will come to an end. It isn’t a significant event to us. Many times we don’t know what day it is and we have arrived in a life where for the most part it doesn’t matter. Whenever we get tired and need to rest we make it a weekend – regardless of the day of the week. We haven’t been to the city in weeks and look forward to not going there for many more weeks. We go there to take what we need and rush back to our little corner of the world and work to make it better and better.

Andreea had plans for us to go to the village to see the local firework display but those plans have changed. We have both showered. We had a wonderfully simple meal of rice and lentils, home made pickles and beetroot. We are in bed in a warm room in a clean house. We will soon hold a cup of dark red home made wine and, like many other days, watch something – a movie or a few episodes of Weeds … and then go to sleep … until tomorrow morning … when the calendars will show a new year but we will continue living our peaceful, abundant and constantly improving life 🙂

We feel blessed (and tired – which are not mutually exclusive) and wish you all find your own passionate paths of inspiration 🙂


Animals Blog Food Growing Food On The Way Preparation Preservation Uncategorized

Three Pigs

PLEASE NOTE: This post contains VERY graphic images of three pigs being slaughtered. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be there to take the images nor that I would be able to. In the end I wanted to be there, I was there and I was able to take these images. If you feel you may be disturbed by them now is a good time to stop scrolling this page. You are invited to skip to the end where I have noted some thoughts and reflections on this event.

From the end of November through to Christmas in many village homes in Romania  pigs are slaughtered. Pigs are a very popular source of meat here in Romania. It is a somewhat celebratory event as it provides an abundance of meat as the holidays approach and the winter sets in. I don’t eat meat (and I’ve put that to the test here in Romania) but Andreea does crave it occasionally. She prefers red-meat but that’s harder to find and more expensive then the abundantly available pig meat in Romania.

When our neighbor told Andreea that they would be slaughtering their large female pig, Andreea asked if she could purchase 10kg of meat but she was gently refused – there simply wasn’t enough meat. The purchase, feeding, slaughter and butchering of a pig is usually a family effort – so when the meat becomes available it is divided between the people involved in this process. So, though a large pig was butchered (about 160kg) there simply would not have been enough meat. However she did invite Andreea to purchase one of the smaller pigs promising they would also butcher it for her. Andreea took up the offer and we joined in for a day of pig slaughtering. I was invited and welcomed to come with a camera.

We woke up to another beautiful & picturesque frozen morning (I was actually praying that the sun would not come out so I would not lose a woodworking day).

And a short walk down to our neighbors brought us into a warm room where everyone was ready to get to work. On the table you can see two dishes filled with a Romanian pastry called Placinta – large dough dumplings (in this case fried) some filled with cheese and others with a cooked cabbage filling. They were prepared the evening before (we know because we were there to eat them warm as they came out of the frying pa) in a large quantity to feed the group of people who worked throughout the day.

I think they were waiting for us to get to work … knives in hand 🙂

So we headed out back to the get the first pig – the large mother.

You can already tell from the conditions in which the pigs are kept that they don’t get much opportunity to be pigs nor are they familiar with human contact (beyond basic feeding).

The pig didn’t want to come out and was lured to the door with a cob of corn – there they tied a rope around it’s foot.

Still they couldn’t pull her out.

So one of them went in and got her by the tail … and so they managed to get her out.

In case you are wondering, as I was, why the leg, here’s the answer … by pulling the leg out from under her they got her lying on her side.

Which exposes her neck for the slaughter. She struggled and yelled fiercely to no avail.

It took a few gurgling minutes for her to die and was then pulled to the work space for butchering.

And it was then time for one of her siblings (the first of two) to go.

And one was picked out and quickly slaughtered.

… and pulled out to the field

that was starting to get busy.

I took a small pause to again appreciate how beautiful a place we live in.

… and then it was time to torch the pigs … this is both to burn off the hairs and a first act of cleaning/disinfection. Traditionally this was done by placing the pig in a pile of hay and lighting it. Apparently that was a slow process and today everyone is rushing and there is no space for tradition so blow torches connected to home cooking gas cannisters are used. The problems is that the gas is effected by the freezing cold so the canisters need to be heated. At first they torched the canisters themselves (safety is not a big thing here) and later placed them in hot water.

And so begins a very tedious and time consuming process of burning and peeling/scratching:

Pieces of wood are used to support the legs … you gotta get it all … and the fingernails are burned and then pulled off … which is when bone is first exposed.

A victim

and a crime scene

Meanwhile the smaller pig was coming along much faster … it was already flipped over and they started rubbing salt into its skin and cleaning it with warm water.

And then it was time to bring in (or take out?) the 3rd pig … this one was selected by Andreea and will henceforth be referred to as “our pig” or “our dead pig” or “our pig meat”.

And the place started looking very busy … though a quiet and pleasant pace of work was maintained.

Meanwhile the 1st small pig was getting its last scraping and washing

… and then more salt rubbed into it (pity it wasn’t alive to enjoy this)

… and finally propped up between two pieces of fire wood … ready for butchering

… and quickly cut open (it was relatively easy because it was still small and not very fatty … see larger pig ahead).

The procedure starts with emptying the chest cavity … so you reach in, tear through lots of ligaments

and there is the heart and lungs still hooked up

Then the bowels are taken out into a large dish

And the unwanted gallbladder is cut away from the much wanted liver

Which left an empty shell of a pig

Which was then cleaved into two halves

Which were carried inside

This is one example where two halves don’t make a whole

And the butchering continues

Once the large pieces are cut away a blanket of fatty tissue and skin is left … this guy did a very nice and elegant butchering job

Here you can see half the pig piled up neatly in the rear and the second half still whole

The other small pig (our pig) was taking a different route (different butcher and a more improvised work space). The head was cut off first and the rest was … well laid back 🙂

And again in a meticulous and what looked to me a professional chunks of meat and organs were efficiently organized

And … here is Andreea salting a fresh sliver of pig skin

… and reliving a childhood memory she’s shared with me numerous times – relishing its fresh taste

On to the main show … the large pig.

… again some final scraping and washing

… propping up

… and cutting open

… a very large liver and gallbladder

… and a huge bowl emptying

… and a kidney cut up. The kidney is used to determine the “market weight” of the pig. The kidney is weighed and its weight is multiplied by 1000 … so a 50gram kidney (like our little pig had) indicates a 50kg pig.

And again, an empty, though very large, shell of meat remained.

It was cracked in half

And again one half at a time carried to a work table

Where the butchering continued

… and fat was peeled

and loads of meat were carried into the house.

including heavy blankets of skin and fat

which were meticulously carved and cleaned

and set aside for processing and preservation.

Most of the meat will end up smoked. Before it is smoked it is salted (which apparently dries it). A large plastic container was filled with layers of meat and salt. The bottom layers were the neatly arranged blankets of skin and fat – this will be left in salt for two months and then smoked – a recipe for Slanina – smoked fat – considered a specialty dish.

On top of that the rest of the meat is piled – including this heavy slab of meat – a complete leg and thigh … deep cuts were filled with salt and it was added to the container

… no meat gets left behind 🙂

This meat will sit for 2 weeks and then be smoked.

And other parts of the meat are processed into various sausages. One kind of sausage is made of the fattier tissues and another is made of the internal organs together with cooked onions and rice. The meat is ground and packed into the intestines. For this the intestines need to be untangled … a meditative task where the tender ligaments keeping it all together are cut away until the intestines can be pulled apart. A gruesome task (if you ask me) and smelly one especially since the intestines are packed with … shit at different levels of digestion.

Then the intestines are filled with water.

… and their contents rinsed out

and … well piled on the ground

… until they are collected and washed and taken back inside.

The internal organs were washed and set aside earlier.

At this point (around 15:00) I left and went back home. The room was getting to be to intense for me … the smell of meat was overwhelming, some was already cooking (chunks of meat frying in melted fat) for a meal. Smoking had accumulated, I was hungry … and I had enough. So no images of the sausages.

Thoughts & Reflections

One Room: It’s easy to miss, especially for people of a western mindset – that everything indoors in these images happened in one room. The house has two rooms but only one is heated so in winter this room is everything – a bedroom, living room, kitchen … everything. One wood-stove is used for both heating and cooking. It houses two women (Maria and her mother) and occasionally on weekends Maria’s two children. At one point this small room (approximately 4 by 4 meters) sheltered 9 people. One of the sofas/beds was covered with plastic sheets on which the meat was piled. The small table (pictured at the top of this post) has seen the meat from many pigs over its life. Under the table, between the two beds, there is now a large plastic container containing a pile of meat that will be enjoyed over almost a year.

Respect: I have greatest respect for Romanian villagers, they are survivors. They are relatively poor and yet they manage to create an abundant (at least food-wise) life.

Hardship: Romanian villagers are set in their ways – and their ways make for a life of hardship. Pigs are typically grown in a confined and inevitable dirty space (permaculture wisdom is that pigs, if given an option, will keep their shelter clean). They are not given space to roam and range, they are not put to work, they do not live long. They are grown over a better part of a year for meat and meat alone. They have to be fed (expensive and tedious). Pigs here have a poor life and a poor death.

Respect: There seems to be very little respect in life or death towards animals – pigs included. There has to be a better and more respectful way to slaughter animals. There also seems to be missing a respect toward the abundance of food that comes from the taking of an animal’s life.

Appreciation: The lack of respect towards the animals also reflects inwards. Romanians do not seem to be able to recognize and appreciate the abundance of food from such an event. They seem to have lost touch with a capacity to enjoy the gifts bestowed on them by nature.

Biology: It was amazing to see the internals of a living being. I had theoretical biological knowledge – but it went to a different level when I saw the diaphragm that separates the chest and abdominal cavities and the internal organs all in their places.

Strength: I didn’t think I could handle being so close to slaughtering and butchering. Two years ago when I visited Romania I could not sit for long at a table that had just a slab of freshly butchered meat. I don’t know what changed … but except for a first few seconds when blood gushed out of the large pig … I was fine.

Life: I noted that biologically, the pig and I have quite a lot in common. Yes, pigs have a very small brain … but most of the biological workings we share (breathing, digestion, elimination, etc.) are autonomous anyway. Mind aside, What is the magical force behind this? What was it that drained from the pigs eyes as blood was draining from its throat. What was it struggling uselessly to hold on to?

Farm Animals: If When we get around to expanding our livestock (currently poultry only) – slaughtering is going to be a challenge. It is an inevitability – it is impossible to sustain animals on a farm without there being some slaughtering. We will need to figure this out.

Our Pig: Andreea now has 20+ kg of meat – most of it frozen in small one-serving bags she can defrost whenever she feels like having some meat. Some of it will be smoked together with Maria’s batch of meat. Our dogs will also enjoy some of the meat.

Holiday: This event took place on December 1st – a National Romanian Holiday.

Blog Construction On The Way Waste Elimination


I think that on the previous time-line post I made an error. The first wood-working project was not the temporary poultry cage – it was our composting toilet.

It’s nothing glamorous but it was a huge relief to have a more decent and comfortable place to shit then the dirty wooden-shack-over-a-hole-in-the-ground behind the house (a common Romanian outhouse). It was dirt-cheap to build and to the best of our knowledge we are almost the only people in the village (a rather large village that does not have a sewage system, though I am guessing there are a few houses that may have septic tanks installed) who do not need to go outside into the freezing cold when we have to pee or poop.

This can be a long post, but I am going to try and keep it short … mostly because the sun is coming out today and I want to take advantage of it to make progress on our cabinet. The bottom line is this:

  1. We shit in a bucket set in a simple wooden box. There is no smell, no flies and most importantly no sound of fresh water being flushed at the end.
  2. A bucket fills in about 4 days.
  3. We have numerous buckets so they can be emptied once every week or two.
  4. The buckets are dumped into a composting … structure.
  5. I do try to pee outside as much as possible … good for the plants and less weight to carry away (pee is surprisingly much heavier then poop).
  6. We dump all of our organic waste there too.
  7. The structure has two containers. One container is filled for a year and then left to rest for another year during which the second container is filled.
  8. In two years (actually 18 months as we’ve been active for 6 months) we will begin to harvest excellent fertilizer.

The choice to use composting toilets kept us on edge for many months while we were planning our house. Though it made sense and seemed like the simplest and most sustainable solution we were very disturbed by it. Ultimately the universe solved the dilemma for us by placing us in a situation where we had no alternative other then building and using a composting toilet.

It wasn’t as easy to build as it should be because, like almost everything else here in Romania, we had a hard time finding materials we needed to build it. We do not have access to affordable plywood. We could not find properly sized, proportioned and lidded buckets. We could not find a toilet seat that would fit and seal. Anything we do here that is outside the far-from-sustainable main-stream requires much effort, time and patience. We eventually found plastic buckets that fit (though they need to be carried carefully  because the lids cannot be fastened down). We built the toilet from sanded OSB. We just barely found a simple and cheap toilet seat that didn’t have raised notches that would prevent a seal between the seat. and bucket.

We have done (and continue to do) much research and have pretty much come to know most of the available alternate solutions. If money is not an issue then there are alternatives that remove the need to carry buckets of waste to the compost pile. But for us money is an issue and more importantly simplicity and self-build are core values. So honestly, even if money was not an issue, we would mostly likely still be using simple bucket-based composting systems.

If you want to know all you need to know (actually much more then you need to know) then all you need is the “Humanure Handbook“. Other then maybe curiosity you won’t need anything else besides this book (probably only a third of it will do).

I will write a separate post about our Humanure Hacienda – that “structure” where  we dump all of our waste. It too is taken from the Humanure Handbook.

As I make the final edits to this post I am smiling to myself  … it has been a process of maturity and expansion that brought me to the point where I can freely write about “pee and poop”. Somewhere in the history of society (at least those societies I have lived in) we took a wrong turn and moved away from practical honesty for the sake of some superficial social appearances. We all pee and poop and we all do so on the same planet that we all must continue to be able to inhabit for a long time. I know what happens with my shit … do you know what happens with yours?


Blog On The Way Uncategorized

A Frozen World This Morning

This is what our world looks like this morning. Today is the best visibility we’ve had in 4 days!

Blog On The Way Uncategorized

Goodies from Bacau

So, the purpose of our road trip was to visit Andreea’s aunt in a village called Bacau, an hour+ drive south from her home town of Piatra Neamt. Her aunt had prepared some things to get us started in our new village life and though we weren’t crazy about the long trip involved we decided to go ahead and make it. We spent a first night in Piatra Neamt and the next night in Bacau and then headed back home.

There were sacks of flour, corn (full seeds + roughly ground + thinly ground into corn-flour):

We had some plants including mint and garlic:


We had ten week-old chicks:

We had 7 ducklings and a mother duck:

… and more (there was a small gas tank …). When we got home we found one of the sacks had punctured. In the past I would have been infuriated at this … now I just scratched my head and moved on (over coming weeks we would add cement and dog hairs to the mix):

When we got home we had to improvise a temporary shelter for the chicks and ducks:

Which soon after led to my first wood-working project – a mostly improvised cage to keep them together and safe.

which included a small bowl of water with a ramp leading into … that one of the ducks was quick to use:

At nights we moved the chicks into an cold coop that we had used until recently and in the days we moved them out into the cage. The ducklings were comfortable to usher in and out because they stayed close to their mother – so wherever she went they did too. The chicks were more unruly (and still are) because they were hatched in and incubator and did not have a mother hen to guide them – making things more difficult for us.

On the way back from Bacau through Piatra Neamt we made a stop to freshen up and see Andreea’s father again shortly. As I was waiting for Andreea in the parking lot I looked in wonder at the contents of our car. 18 months before I was standing at the same place (during my first visit to Romania) and I could not have imagined then that I would be back and in this situation. Yet there I was … crumbling bread and pouring water into a small plastic container to feed chicks and ducks!


Blog On The Way

Roadtrip to Piatra Neamt & Bacau

On the day we moved out of the city we set out on a Roadtrip through Piatra Neamt (Andrreea’s home town) to Bacau where Andreea’s aunt prepared many village goods for us. I’ll get to the visit itself in a follow-up post, for now I’ll leave you to enjoy some of images of a beautiful green Romania:

Blog On The Way Uncategorized

Moving Out

It’s been a few months since I’ve updated this blog. We’ve been very busy and in an in-between existence. That’s slowly changing. This past week I started publishing some short daily updates and this post is the first full fledged post in a while. Though I wasn’t writing much the camera was with us at all times and most of the story of recent months is on it.

If I remember correctly we completed the official purchase of Bhudeva (our land and home)  in mid May (I had just returned from a visit to the UK to meet with Ralph Carpenter to consult on hemp construction). This left us with about 2 weeks before our apartment contract expired to finally move out.

We started going out for single days visits to see what is there and start making the place livable. As we got accustomed to being there we began to stay over night. There was no livable place in doors so we added an extension to the house in the form of a tent. At first we camped at a distance from the house:

 … and then gradually moved closer:

We had hoped that many things (beds, cabinets, etc.) left in the house would be useful but instead we found ourselves emptying most of the things in the house. When we began to move things around we also found that the walls were in bad shape. Whole panels of cob were coming of the wall and the rest was cracked – sometimes only the lime finishing layer sometimes deeper.

This image is after we already dragged out quite a few things and there was space to move in the room (the house was very densely packed):

 Outside the grass was overgrown. Fortunately we found an old scythe in the barn (I say this as if it were obvious – but until then I did not know what a scythe was … and when I was first introduced do it, it was using its Romanian name – Coasa – only weeks later did I find it’s English name). Here is Andreea hacking away after some rough sharpening:

 The barn (until recently) was filled with junk and two very large grain storage containers:

When most of the contents of the house were dumped outside we set to work on the walls. We collected some clay from a hill behind the house and created a first cob mix:

When that seemed to work out OK we began mixing larger quantities and applying them to the walls. The results were questionable.

Our neighbor, seeing our efforts, brought over a power-mixer which made cob mixing much faster and easier.

Then we hit our first great obstacle – our cob mix (a natural clay-sand mixture with water and cow-poop) didn’t work. When it dried it cracked and fell off the walls. Before and after:

After 2 or 3 different failed attempts we decided to hire help. We contracted a team of 3 builders (a father and two sons from the village) to fix the walls for us and to pour concrete on the floors (the existing floors were earth floors covered by sheets of a tar-like substance covered by strips of slightly overlapping linoleum).

Unfortunately we were not able to be there when they were working. I really wanted to see how they do the work. They sent us to bring clay from another source – it was a finer and more consistent clay then we had used (our neighbor helped us – he took us to the source in a horse and carriage … we brought back a fully loaded carriage of clay). What I can say is that their technique involved:

  1. Putting large nails into the walls.
  2. Weaving a kind of net using some kind of thick wiring.
  3.  Creating a cob mix that included the finer clay, sand (of which we purchased a truck load), water and gypsum.
  4. A lime render was sprayed onto the walls (using a manually pressurized pump).

We were there when the sand was delivered but not much more.

During our last visit (before moving out) we took some time off from work to harvest some Tilia (but not just!) flowers for drying:

Every time we came out we packed the car with things and moved them out to the village. On the last day in the city I made one final journey with a full car (so full there was no room for Andreea). This is what the place looked like when I left it. All of our things were tucked into this storage space:

The refrigerator was delivered the previous day and the laundry was the last batch from the apartment which had not yet dried):

The house didn’t have a door – it was taken off when the concrete was poured … and when the workers had left had not yet set. So the entry to the house was blocked with … a broom:

The house was looking MUCH better inside:

Outside was a huge mess:

I came back to the city and we took off on a small road-trip  … which I well get to in the next post 🙂

These first weeks were very difficult (I think for me more then Andreea) … they were emotionally draining. The task of clearing the house and making it livable looked impossible. It felt like we were doing much more then cleaning … we were resuscitating the place  – it was dead and we were trying to breathe life into it. It took a lot of persistence and faith to pass through the heaviness and resistance that awaited us.



Blog On The Way

Offline Onlife

Though it isn’t apparent on here Bhudeva is in full swing … we have no Internet connection yet (and are having difficulty getting one!) … which means we are spending most of our time doing physical work. We hope to get around to writing and showing more soon  … here are some highlights:

  • We moved out to the village completely last weekend.
  • We drove across Romania and came back with a car full of 10 chicks, 1 mother duck, 7 ducklings, sacks of wheat, corn, cornflower, nuts and a few plants …
  • We built and are using a composting toilet.
  • We cleaned a night-time chicken coup and built a day-time one for the chicks to roam.
  • We have a working gas cooker and a refrigerator.
  • We have a clean well … now working on getting running water into the house.
  • We are sleeping indoors on the floor on a pile of carpets, a wool mat … soon we hope to have a raised and healthy bed/matress.

We are now in the city in a coffee-shop with an internet connection – preparing for a day of shopping and roaming the city.

There is endless work but we have a lifetime to do it … so … we hope to be back partially online soon

Blog On The Way

Day 1

Thursday we signed papers, gave money and took responsibility for 94,000sqm of land we can now refer to as ours. Today we headed out there for the first time in this context. We planned to stay over one night and come back tomorrow … but, as is apparent from these words, that didn’t quite work out. We will be going back out there tomorrow morning for another day of work.

We were given one key which opens up one of the existing structures where the other keys can be found. There are many locks to the different structures on the grounds but there seemed to be way more keys. So we began fishing around trying to find a key to open the house. About half way into the pile of keys we found one that worked.

We went inside walked around a bit and looked at each other wondering where to begin. We couldn’t find an answer so we went for a walk outside to have a look around. We then came back in and found two ideas to get us started: (1) clear the space as much as possible and (2) begin rough cleaning from the top down. Andreea went on to fill trash bags with trash and I began cleaning the walls and windows … oh and I brutally disassembled an old bed so I could carry it out.

The house is built of mud and cob and it has an earthen floor covered by plastic-like sheets. On one of the walls we encountered a large slab that had come loose from the wall (I’ll try to get an image of it tomorrow … I didn’t feel like taking pictures today) – which we will fix using locally and naturally available clay behind the house.

We managed to get through one of the rooms. I was the first to lose confidence about staying the night. It was an overwhelming first experience for me (for Andreea too, but I think less then me). My breathing was getting rough from all the dust and I felt emotionally drained. The house has been dormant and going into it feels like a huge resuscitation – we are bringing life back into it. It goes way beyond cleaning and fixing … we are slowly generating energy inside it … an energy that now requires careful maintenance but eventually will grow to support us.

Andreea wanted to light a fire to warm and dry the place from the moisture we brought in. As I started to get the fire going smoke began to pour into the room, apparently our chimney is blocked … here we go … so now we have a dusty, cool (we opened all the windows to let air flow through the house) and now smokey house.

Andreea finally called it and decided to head back to the city and come back again tomorrow morning.

It was a difficult day for me. I am intimidated by the thought of living in this house for a year (as it is still unclear if we will be able to build this year).

We sat down on the stairs to the house to eat before leaving and as we did this I watched our neighbor sowing seeds. She was bent over manually sowing one seed at a time of one plant (I think it was some kind of bean) and in straight rows. I was watching her and thinking of a video of Sepp Holzer tossing a seed-mix onto his terraces … and re-realizing what a long journey it is we have set out on.

On the way back, though tired, I realized the amazing abundance in which we live. Even though we have only basic possessions with us, there will not be space for all of our things in the existing house. Yet in this house lived 5 people (a couple with two kids and a grandmother) with all of their possessions.